Thursday Evening Online Program
Dear Still Water Friends,
The last time I saw my aunt, she was greatly altered from a couple years before. She had been a regular hiker and swimmer, practicing Pilates weekly, and going cross country skiing in winter. On my visit last summer, she stopped to sit down often and carried a portable oxygen tank everywhere. When my uncle took my sister and me on a walk through the woods, my aunt waited in the car for us, afraid of depleting the oxygen tank battery. Her fear of overdoing it and not being able to breathe was uppermost in her mind throughout the short visit.
My aunt’s mind was sharp as ever, but as her illness increased, she was gradually letting go pieces of who she had been in the past. Watching her, I felt grieved and helpless. I realized that I needed to let go of the picture I held in my mind of my aunt and my family as they were when I was growing up. I had looked up to her as an elder; now I saw her as a more complicated and vulnerable person.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes about Letting Go in Answers from the Heart: Practical Answers to Life’s Burning Questions.
To “let go” means to let go of something. That something may be an object of our mind, something we’ve created, like an idea, feeling, desire, or belief. Getting stuck on that idea could bring a lot of unhappiness and anxiety. We’d like to let it go, but how? It’s not enough just to want to let it go; we have to recognize it first as being something real. We have to look deeply into its nature and where it has come from, because ideas are born from feelings, emotions, and past experiences, from things we’ve seen and heard. With the energy of mindfulness and concentration we can look deeply and discover the roots of the idea, the feeling, the emotion, the desire. Mindfulness and concentration bring about insight, and insight can help us release the object in our mind.
Say you have a notion of happiness, an idea about what will make you happy. That idea has its roots in you and your environment. The idea tells you what conditions you need in order to be happy. You’ve entertained the idea for ten or twenty years, and now you realize that your idea of happiness is making you suffer. There may be an element of delusion, anger, or craving in it. These elements are the substance of suffering. On the other hand, you know that you have other kinds of experiences: moments of joy, release, or true love. You recognize these as moments of real happiness. When you have had a moment of real happiness, it becomes easier to release the objects of your craving, because you are developing the insight that these objects will not make you happy.
Watching my aunt’s struggle reminded me to value my ability to breathe easily. Before we said good bye, I had a talk alone with her in which she read me a poem she loved written by a friend. My aunt died last September. I am glad I had the opportunity to understand her and her role in our family while she was alive.
This Thursday we will sit together and then explore the following questions in our Dharma sharing.
- Is there something you are in the process of letting go of now?
- Is the letting go changing your view of yourself and others?
- Does this new perspective alter who and how you are in the world?
You are warmly invited to join us!
Below is a poem on letting go by Mary Oliver.
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In Blackwater Woods
From American Primitive by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.